Every time I check out at a grocery store, I have a soul-searching moment. Should I use plastic, paper, or bring my own reusable bags? Plastic bags have a long-standing, well-documented bad rap: they add litter, they choke and poison wildlife, they don’t break down in landfills or in oceans, they add to our demand for oil, and they aren’t easy to recycle. Many countries, several US cities, and some large chain stores have banned them. And, as far as I know, no one yet has banned paper bags.
With this in mind, I have been insisting on paper bags for some time, thinking it is the best option, expecting to feel good when I do it. It helps me keep the amount of plastic I discard to a minimum because I reuse the paper bags to line both my kitchen waste can (expecting they will decompose in the landfills) and my recycling bin (expecting they will be transformed into some other material). At my local store, I have to ask for paper, and quickly too, before the clerk automatically puts my purchases in plastic bags. If I am too slow and miss this opportunity, I remove my items and put them in paper bags myself. I try to do this unobtrusively to not call attention to myself or hold up the line. Yet, somehow, I always end up feeling like a persnickety fuss-budget.
Whole Foods and EarthFare do not even offer plastic bags, so I should breeze through the check-out line feeling fine, right? Not that easy. At these stores, lots of customers bring their own totes. Is it just my imagination or do they all have a smug, greener-than-thou look about them? Instead of persnickety, I end up feeling eco-UNfriendly. I know these stores pride themselves on their politically correct image. If they only offer paper, it must not be a bad choice, or is it? I’ve now found several reports defying the claim that paper is better than plastic, detailed on websites like How Stuff Works, TreeHugger, and EcoMyth…and I am left wondering.
If you bring your own tote bags to the grocery store, what should you use to line your trash and waste cans? Interestingly, none of these sites mention this. Do you still buy plastic garbage bags, most of which do not decompose in the landfills? Or, do you avoid that by buying biodegradable plastic bags? Do you have to buy them online or can you find them in local stores? If they sell such items anywhere, no doubt it would be at these socially responsible groceries. I wonder if that is what I should do. Like Kermit the Frog sang many years ago, “It’s Not That Easy Being Green“.